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Corporate Partnerships With Environmental NGOs Lead to Weaker Environmental Activism


G8 SummitPartnerships between environmental NGOs and corporate giants have become increasingly popular over the past few years, but analysts argue that instead of promoting environmentally friendly living, such relationships only boost production and consumption, while weaken the power and influence of environmental activism.

In an article published in The Conversation earlier this week, Genevieve LeBaron has investigated whether the green agenda of big corporate giants and their partnerships with environmental NGOs contributes to protecting nature, or it is simply a way to sell more of their not-so-green products with a ‘Save the Planet’ label.

Over the past few years we kept hearing of new alliances made between companies and environmental organizations such as WWF and even Greenpeace. Not long ago, Greenoptimistic reported on Coca-cola funding WWF in their campaign to save polar bears, and this is not the only initiative of this kind. McDonalds is teaming up with the Environmental Defense Fund to promote sustainable packaging, Greenpeace is partnering with Unilever and Coca-cola to encourage green refrigeration technology, even the biggest oil and gas drillers, Chesapeake Energy and British Petroleum are giving millions to conservation networks to ensure “sustainable drilling”.

But where is all of this leading to? Market-friendly eco-labeling and eco-certification has not promoted green living. In the case of Coca-cola, for example, the cute white polar bear on the label has boosted the sale of coke cans incredibly, resulting in more than a billion cans being sold. Another similar example is the case of the Sierra Club, an organization advocating ecological preservation. They have rented the club’s logo to Clorox for better marketing of green cleaning products, and in return they get a percentage of the profit.

The result is encouraging unsustainable consumption and production patterns, with some increase in revenue of environmental organizations. Yes, some of these initiatives improve the ecological footprint of the products, but as sustainable packaging or removal of illegal Indonesian paper fiber from doll boxes hit the news, sales jump sky-high.

Although quite a number of environmental activists resist the temptation to join forces with the giants, these do not have it easy, especially if they are involved in direct actions.

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  1. of course this is good. it promotes green awareness, it creates nature based housing and workpaces, and it does not cost an arm and a leg. it consumes less energy, all while educating people to be eco friendly.

  2. From Tom Murray, Vice President, Corporate Partnerships program at Environmental Defense Fund:
    This article objects to the whole concept of working with companies to limit pollution and improve corporate accountability. That view, it seems to us, is short-sighted.
    To be clear: Environmental Defense Fund does not take any money from companies with whom we work.  Period.  We don’t accept donations from energy companies or extraction companies. Period. We pick corporate partners to achieve environmental goals and we don’t want even the appearance of mixed motivations. 
    But with that rule strictly in place, we believe that working with select companies gives us another way to improve the environment.  After all, corporations do a lot of the polluting on this planet, so finding ways to improve their practices is a good way to protect our air, land, water, and climate.  For instance, we work with Walmart because its supply chain runs back to thousands of factories across the world — so when Walmart demands less waste, greater energy efficiency, or safer products from their suppliers, it has a big impact.  We also helped FedEx improve the efficiency of their delivery vehicles, saving carbon emissions.  And our Climate Corps program has placed hundreds of energetic graduate students into public and private sector organizations – including Apple, Chicago Public Schools, General Motors, the U.S. Army, and Verizon companies, finding almost $1.3 billion in energy savings to date.
    Do the companies get a public relations boost from working with an environmental group?  Of course, that (in addition to the financial savings from efficiency) is why most of them do it. That means we have to ensure, from the start, that the environmental benefits of our partnerships are real and substantial.  We turn away plenty of ideas that are PR over substance.  But if companies are rewarded with good will for significant environmental improvement, that’s not a bad thing – and may drive the business community at large in a more responsible direction.
    By the way, while cooperation is our preferred approach (http://www.edf.org/4u5), we are still more than willing to protest, pressure, and sue companies that aren’t willing to do the right thing or follow the law.
    People are right to be suspicious when cooperation and cash seem linked.  But that’s very different from questioning the very idea of working with companies to make real changes in the way they do business.


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